How to Choose the Best Summer Camps for Kids

Happy kids hikers jumping with joy in forest

In the World of Summer Camps for Kids, There are a Wealth of Different Camp Options to Help Your Kids Unleash their Inner Confidence, Forge Lasting Friendships, and Discover Accepting Camp Communities.  

More challenges exist in todays world for the early development of our kids and teens.  The advent of the internet has created an entire new world of discovery and distraction.  Summer camps for kids, and other unplugged outdoor adventures for kids, are becoming more and more necessary for the early development of our future leaders.

Despite the different goals of each camp, ALL will strive for the same values of teamwork, confidence building, and personal empowerment. 

Everybodys personal version of Mt. Everest is different.  For some kids, it will be the local mountain peak and the overwhelming feeling of self-empowerment that they’ll receive standing on top.  And for other kids, that first business plan they’ve been working on all summer will represent not only their time and efforts but their dreams and personal career aspirations as well.

They can both be just as empowering and important for your kids future growth.  As all parents know though, each kid can be a different spice of life.  Therefore their personal and life goals will all be different as well (and probably constantly changing, as it is even with adults).  It’s all about finding and picking the right camp type for your kid.

Whichever camp will bring out the biggest smiles, the biggest Hearts, and most importantly the biggest sense of empowerment and excitement for what’s ahead in life.  Talk to your kid or teen well before a decision on the camp is made, and include them in every part of the consideration process to create a stronger feeling of ownership.  This will help to allay their doubts, and move straight to the exciting part – the build-up to the first day of camp!

Traditional Summer Camps for Kids

A traditional summer camp is more-than-likely similar to those awesome experiences that you remember yourself as a kid at camp.  Or the typical outdoor images that are conjured up in your mind whenever you think of kids summer camps.  The warm and inviting feelings at the campfire activity, the nervous last breathe as you took your first steps on the ropes course or that first, decorated tree cookie that is still hopefully lingering around in your possessions somewhere.

These are all of the activities and traditions that are expected at a traditional kids summer camp.  Depending on the location and season of the camp, the activities offered can vary widely.  Many camps endeavor to go above and beyond in creating fun activities for the campers.  There will usually be a theme attached to each summer camp session that could range from superheroes to rock star camps.

Be aware of the theme and prepare your kid with the appropriate theme-based clothing and gear.  Every kid wants to feel cool at camp!  A fun onesy for your kid or teen might be a good place to start.  I’ve seen many a camper and counselor rock a onesy during the theme challenges and the camp dance.

Other expected activities at any traditional summer camp include the ropes course, canoeing / kayaking, swimming, archery, arts & crafts, and campfire performances.

A good place to start looking for these camps would be your local YMCA, church or public library.  And your kids school should have a few recommendations as well.

Trusting summer camps for kids can be tricky for our wonderful camp parents.  Without an inside perspective, it can be hard to even figure out where to start in finding that trust. 

Fear not, we feel your plight and we’re here to help!  Check out our recent post on How to Find Trust In Your Kids Summer Camps.  We provide you with the essential awareness to ensure your kid has the best time at camp.  You deserve to feel completely comfortable sending them for their camp adventure.

Academic & Technology Camps

The world is a fast-moving landscape for our kids these days.  Technology and the advent of the internet have created new opportunities for career aspirations.  If your kid has a passionate interest in a certain aspect of technology or a certain career path, it’s never too early to start exposing them to it.

These camps are also great opportunities for teens to check out their first-choice colleges as many of them actually take place on college campuses across the United States.  Click Here to see a list of camps that are located on college campuses!

More importantly, its never too early for the right mentors to start sharing their inspiring passion for their jobs.  Working professionals who are so committed to giving back that they will volunteer their time to give camp workshops to the kids.  These Academic & Technology Camps can include:

  • 3D Printing & Modelling
  • Computer Animation
  • Computer Coding & Programming
  • Graphic Design
  • Video Game Design
  • Website Design & Integration

There are also many camps out there that specialize in offering a small glimpse of certain career paths.  This will help to guide your kid or teen in starting to think about forging a life for themselves in these professions.  Its never too early to start figuring out the all-important life question that confronts all of us, what do we really want.  These camps are sometimes referred to as theme camps, and can include:

  • Architecture
  • Aviation
  • Engineering
  • Farming
  • Fashion
  • Gaming
  • Magic
  • Outdoor Sciences
  • Space
  • STEM
  • Theatrical Stunts

Remember to discuss these exciting options with your kids & teens.  They should always be included in the decision-making process to ensure their full commitment and excitement for the chosen programs.  We’ve compiled a list of Academic & Technology Camps across the entire country with filters to let you dial down on certain subjects.  Making it easy and quick to find the camp that will help your kids to soar towards their dreams!  Click Here to start searching!

Travel & Expedition Camps

Mountaineering Teens Walking on Deserted Rocky Terrain

These are THE outdoor adventures that will push your kid, challenge them to dig deep, and will be remembered forever for the confidence and empowerment that it unleashed.  These camps don’t usually base themselves around one location, instead choosing to engage in point-to-point outdoor expeditions.  They can last from one week to the majority of the summer. 

Depending on the location of the camp, the expeditions will cover a few different outdoor disciplines.  Such as backpacking, rock climbing, sailing, caving, biking, scuba diving, and kayaking.  There will be numerous goals conquered throughout the length of the expedition by your kids and teens.  The ripples of this growth will provide newfound confidence and set them on the path to future success.   

Camps and organizations that offer Travel & Expedition Camps for the kids need to maintain the highest safety and insurance standards.  The following are critical considerations for the safety and well-being of your kids and teens in any backcountry area. 

Their guides should possess several outdoor certifications with the minimal expectation being a Wilderness First Responder certification and an AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) certification of either Single Pitch or Climbing Wall Instructor.  These two certification types cover the medical and climbing / rigging needs of the expedition group. 

Keep in mind that if the trip travels into backcountry locations that includes any prolonged time within snowbound areas, then an additional level of certification will be absolutely necessary.  The minimal expectation would be for at least 1 guide to possess a current Level 1 Avalanche Certification from either an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Rescue & Education) or AMGA-Approved Course.

A good place to start looking for these camps would be:

Our own Kids Camp Search listings for Travel & Expeditions Camps https://kidscampingessentials.com/camps/search/travel-expedition/

NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) – https://www.nols.edu/en/

Special Needs Camps

These camps offer summer camp fun for mentally, emotionally, or physically challenged kids.  These camps feature many of the same traditional camp activities offered at other camps.  They simply place a special level of consideration and resource on the activities and schedules of the camp.  Every kid deserves an awesome, unplugged outdoor adventure at camp!

It has been a unique and incredible privilege in my life to have worked and planned sessions at some of these camps.  The strength that these kids can show in the face of some serious adversity is humbling to watch.  I consider many of these memories to be the luckiest and most endearing of my life.  The chance to learn real strength from real champions.

The staff at these camps are a passionate and committed bunch, with a strong belief in helping and supporting kids everywhere.  A particularly strong and approachable camp director is required at these camps, as the level of consideration for all kids, teens, and adults can be immense.

There are a whole slew of different camp types within this category alone:

  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Development Disabilities
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Kids Coping With Family Tragedy
  • Hearing or Visual Impaired
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Physical Disabilities
  • Speech Impaired

A good place to start looking for these camps would be:

Our own Kids Camp Search listings for Special Needs Camps – https://kidscampingessentials.com/camps/search/special-needs/

Very Special Camps – https://www.veryspecialcamps.com/

Young Girl Enjoys Her View From Kids Camp Tent.

Arts & Performance Camps

Sometimes it is the kids inner artist that needs to be unleashed.  There’s actually an inspirational story here with the incredible early development of Gillian Lynne.  She worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber to create the choreography for two of the longest-running shows on Broadway, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

In her early school years, her constant fidgeting and lack of focus had led to poor grades and frustrated teachers.  There was a concern that this would have an impact on the rest of her life.  Well thankfully for the world, it did!

Her mother took her to a doctor and explained the situation. Upon hearing it, the doctor turned up the radio and asked to speak to the mother privately outside the room.  The doctor then encouraged the mother to look back into the room.

Her young daughter was dancing wildly and excitedly to the music.  The doctor informed the mother that her energy was not a negative issue.  It simply had to be directed into a different focus and encouraged the mother to sign her up for dancing school.  How deprived the world would have been had it not been for that doctors wisdom.

Thankfully there are many Arts & Performance Camps across the world today.  They cover a range of different types: Acting, Musical Theater, Dance, Art, Music, and Writing.  They all share the common goal of trying to elevate your kids artistic passion to the next level.

The best place to find these camps is our very own Kids Camp Search.  We have a dedicated category, and a bunch of exciting options to help you find the perfect place for your kids to explore their artistic interests.  Click Here to start your search now!

Another good place to start looking for these camps would be your local library, community center and local non-profit organizations (such as the YMCA).  If your city has community theaters, they are always great places to inquire as well.

Family Camps

Most camps that offer summer camps for the kids will also offer a family camp session as well at the tail end of the summer.  This will be a shortened, weekend camp session that will include all of the camp activities with a looser schedule to accommodate everyone.

Some camps even like to include this session in the kids summer camp schedules as a part of a visiting parents experience.  It will be your opportunity to not only enjoy time with your kids in an unplugged adventure but also to get a closer look at their camp.

This is a helpful option for many parents who are anxious or nervous about sending their kids for their first camp experience away from home.  Your kid will have a much easier time settling in at camp if they have already familiarized themselves with their camp surroundings.  You will also have an easier time letting them go with this same awareness.  And given that kids summer camps start at ages 7 and 8, you have plenty of time to create some lasting camp memories with your kids before they set off on their own unplugged experiences.

A good place to start looking for these camps would be your local YMCA, church or public library.  And your kids school should have a few recommendations as well.

Young father and son spending time together in the forest

Faith-Based Camps

If a religious motivation and a desire to have your kid develop a stronger awareness with their religion is the intent, then Religious Camps could be your answer.  Many churches and temples across the world offer kids summer camps.  Keep in mind that many work within a day camp structure that requires drop-off and pick-up at the beginning and end of each day.

Residential kids camp experiences at Religious Camps will focus on creating a stronger connection for the kids in their respective faiths.  These camps can be quite impressive with at times a level of almost unmatched resources.  They also rarely operate on their own, usually being run as a small part of a much wider non-profit organization.

These camps will feature the same traditional camp activities but will commit much more time in the day to prayer time and religious studies.  The values of the particular kids camp will also be heavily influenced by the religion.

It’s important for parents to be able to distinguish these camps from the rest, and we’ve made it super easy for you within our Kids Camp Search – https://kidscampingessentials.com/camps/search/faith-based/.

Military Camps and Police Academies

You may think that every form of military or police camp is some kind of boot camp punishment for troubled youth.  Well, that is not the case at all.  There are several camps across the country that open their doors to motivated kids participating in camp programs that are organized and run by various military and police branches.  Some of these programs will even measure the kids performance during the school year and challenge the kids to really earn this unique experience.

I was working at a camp once with a visiting police academy group.  The teens were incredibly motivated and all had aspirations of becoming future police officers.  The focus of the program for the week was on leadership development, physical conditioning, and stress challenges.  It was a very strict program that was run with an expectation of discipline and respect.

I remember thinking at the time that it was the quietest dining hall at mealtime that I have ever experienced at camp.  They were stone cold silent the entire meal, and I quickly realized that they were actually not allowed to socialize with each other during the mealtimes.  I also remember that from the early, early hours to after dinner of each day, there was always a large group that was running.

This activity was obviously expected by all to us to be pretty much a constant thing during the week.  What was most surprising to me was the level of pain and physical degradation that the kids experienced, all while maintaining strong discipline and always finding moments to sneak an enthusiastic smile to the camp staff whenever they could.

I actually really resonated with this strength, and hugely respected the kids for having found it at such an early age.  I remember seeing a kid puke up privately behind a bush in the middle of a run, then catch me looking and wishing I could help him at that moment.  I then immediately felt foolish for thinking that because his head emerged from the bushes with a big smile wrapped across his entire face and an eager thumbs up in my direction.  It actually reminded me of past rugby practices back in the day when I used to do the exact same thing.

A military or police camp can be one of the most powerful ways to instill and foster leadership in your kids and teens.  And its never too early for them to find and unleash that deep inner strength in our Hearts that exists within all of us.  

A good place to start looking for these camps would be your local police and military stations/branches.  Many of the military programs for kids take place on the bases themselves.

Scouts Camps

There has been one kids summer camp experience that throughout the decades has always been synonymous with leadership for young campers.  And that is the Scouts Camps.

The Scouts are actually one of the biggest landowners of camps and outdoor areas across the United States.  The majority of the largest and most well-funded camps I have ever worked at in my career have been Scout camps.  They have a large alumni network of support, and many are still willing to volunteer to lend a hand whenever there is a need.

They are also very accessible for most parents as strong Scout chapters exist in every state for young boys and girls.  Some Scout camps do allow non-scout kids to attend for an extra fee.  The kids will enjoy all of the traditional camp activities with the same awesome camp spirit and community.  But the Scouts structure of camp will present a different schedule to a regular camp, with a stronger focus on leadership and earning achievement badges for the kids and their cabin groups.

A good place to start looking for these camps would be our Kids Camp Search.  We have an Affiliation / Group search filter that will allow you to specifically search for these affiliated camps.  Check it out Now!

Male Scouts enjoying time at camp

Foster Kids Camps

The kids at Foster Kid Camps have left one of the strongest impressions on me.  When I think of these kids and see their faces, the emotions are overwhelming.  I have learned so much about myself from these incredible kids, and have also learned what it is to be truly strong for others.  I thought I had already had a good handle on this lesson from my past backcountry guiding days, but boy was I wrong!

Many of these kids I would trust and feel confident hiking with into the deep backcountry.  More so actually than many adults that I know.  I have met kids who have had to endure so much in their lives that the biggest support I could provide to them was just to listen and truly believe in them.

Foster Kid Camps offer families a chance to bring all of the siblings together again for a memorable outdoor adventure together at camp.  This is perhaps the one and only time of the entire year that they will all be together.  The camp staff will build into the schedule an arts and crafts activity of some sort with the goal of creating personal souvenirs for each other that they can take away at the end of the camp session.

The most memorable arts and crafts activity that I have seen had the foster kids making and decorating pillows for each other with personal messages written on them.  So that they could see that message and have the chance to hug their sibling every night of the year.

The power of belief is a hugely empowering feeling, and perhaps one of the most beautiful things that occur at kids camps.  Especially for a troubled kid with an older counselor mentor who truly loves and believes in them.  I find myself always looking forward to these camp sessions with a particular excitement for the lessons to be learned by everyone.  And for the joy to be received and given by some of those who need it most.

A good place to start looking for these camps would be your local non-profit community organizations as well as prominent national charity organizations.

Sports Camps

Sports Camps have risen in the past couple of decades to a new level of prestige and recognition.  They have attracted big-name sponsors, such as Nike, and big-name athletes as coaches and mentors.  All in the common goal of offering kids the chance to take their performance in their chosen sports to the next competitive level.

Colleges and other recruiting options have caught wind of these camps too and now utilize them as a means to unearthing and tracking potential new talent.

Sports Camps will offer the same traditional camp activities, but the locations of these camps can vary widely.  Some are offered in city locations at college campuses, and others at remote outdoor camps with enhanced sporting facilities.  Its absolutely eye-opening the sheer size of some of these sports facilities that exist in remote locations at camps on the upper East Coast.

If your kid has a deep passion and commitment to a particular professional sport, there is definitely a camp somewhere out there that is focused on your kids development in it.

A good place to start looking for these Sports Camps would be RIGHT HERE within a dedicated category in our Kids Camp Search.  We have many exciting sports options for kids & teens!

Young Camper playing baseball at sports camp

What is the American Camp Association?

The ACA, or American Camp Association, is the largest and foremost authority on ensuring that a camp is a safe and quality experience for your kids.  They also work very closely with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Red Cross to ensure that proper standards are maintained across all areas of camp management.  

There is, unfortunately, no current requirement for camps to be accredited by any outside, regulating authority.  Though the states and counties do track camp standards through their various Departments of Health.  It should be noted that the managing standards can vary, depending on a variety of outside factors (such as available funding and resources).

Most legitimate camps are either accredited by the ACA or in the process to be accredited.  There may be an exception for certain Scout Camps, as they sometimes prefer to certify themselves within their national charter.

All of our camp profiles make it clear which camps maintain this accreditation.  Simply look for the ACA image within the profile.  If no image is seen, then the camp is currently not ACA accredited.

Keep in mind that the ACA does not accredit day programs or any camp that is less than 3 days in length.  

Handy Tip for Parents!

The Boys And Girls Clubs of America give economically challenged parents an affordable way to send their kids off for a life-changing kids camp experience.  There are B&GC; branches located all across the country committed to providing safe learning and development spaces for your kids and teens after school.  They have also usually forged strong relationships with other community non-profit organizations.

Many YMCAs and other community non-profits that offer summer camps will work with their local Boys and Girls Clubs to offer special discounted rates for their sessions.  These kids truly deserve an impacting camp experience; the chance to get away and the freedom to just enjoy being kids.

You can find your local Boys and Girls Club of American branch by clicking HERE!

Financial aid is also one of the most important aspects of our camp profiles on our Kids Camp Search.  As said, every kid deserves an unplugged adventure.  Many camps will go to incredible lengths to ensure that no family is ever turned away.  Click Here to search for camps offering financial aid!

The Traditional Camp Activities

You’ve been reading this post and seeing this term mentioned throughout.  Wondering what are the Traditional Camp Activities?  These are the activities that almost every camp offers for the kids, regardless of values, location, or season.  They will create some of the most memorable and Heart-jerking moments at camp for your kids.  This recent post on What Are The Traditional Programs at Kids Summer Camps will provide all of the essential answers for our wonderful camp parents.

Girl in Costume Jumping to Sky at Kids Camp

What About Camps for Teens?

Teen, Leadership, and Career Camps are becoming more important as we see countless teens being consumed by their screens every year.  With the working world fast approaching, the ability to express yourself confidently without a keyboard is necessary for every teen.  

We want our teens to be full of confidence when they step boldly into that working world.  There are six main differences to the camp programs for teens.  This recent post on How to Trust Summer Camps for Teens will provide all of the answers and insights.

That’s A Wrap!

Hopefully, this post on how to choose the right summer camps for kids is helpful, insightful, and enjoyable for you.  Your kids and teens time at camp will become some of the most memorable highlights of their entire childhood.

The ripples of personal growth, lasting friendships, and new camp family will impact your kid or teen in positive ways for the rest of their lives.  Setting them on the path to success to becoming our future leaders.  Have a great time preparing your young camper for their unforgettable camp adventures!

“Camp is the first place people liked me for being me.” 

– Former Camper

For more of the best kids camp tips and insight, subscribe to our free and exclusive KCE Camp Tidbits emails.  Confidence building is a major part of any awesome outdoor adventure.  Being properly equipped is key.  Nothing saps your confidence like being unprepared.  Never let it happen to your kids!  Check out our essential Kids Camping Bundles.

Want to Share Your Experience or Ask a Question About the Different Summer Camps for Kids?  Leave A Comment Below!

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